Politicians Gone Wild: A Comparative Analysis of Political Scandals in New Zealand, The United States and France
The place of political scandals in the academic literature is contentious; scandals are commonly dismissed as distractions from the ‘real issues’ in a society. This thesis challenges that notion, instead arguing that political scandals are an important phenomenon in functioning democracies. Through a comparative lens, political transgressions since the year 2000 that have occurred in three liberal democracies, New Zealand, the United States and France, have been analysed. Transgressions by political actors in these jurisdictions of a sexual, financial and power nature have been applied to previously established frameworks. Observations about the political culture of these countries have been made as a result of this analysis. Four existing theories on the significance of political scandal – the functionalist theory of scandal, the no consequence theory, the trivialisation theory and social theory – were also tested. The social theory of scandal is concluded to be the most applicable to the case studies assessed. The social theory of scandal argues that political scandals can foster cultures of debate and criticism which is important to functioning democracies; however, political scandals of a large magnitude or high frequency can damage the public’s perception of political actors and institutions. This analysis therefore serves as evidence that political scandals are not frivolous occurrences but instead are important indicators of societal values and can have important and lasting consequences. This thesis also considers political scandals in broader historical and cultural contexts, drawing attention to the pervasiveness of scandal as a topic of academic and public interest.